Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Cairo for a huge rally Friday despite on offer by the army to ensure 30-year-old emergency laws are lifted and free and fair elections held.
The military’s comments were seen as a major push to end the worst crisis in Egypt’s modern history, but also contained a clear signal that it wanted demonstrators off the streets without achieving to their key demand that President Hosni Mubarak quit now.
NBC News reported Friday that Mubarak had left Cairo, citing a high-ranking official and a security source. Both sources said he left from Almaza military airport with his family.
There were unconfirmed reports that he had gone to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Israel’s Channel 10. Mubarak has a villa there and regularly stays there at weekends.
Protesters enraged at Mubarak’s refusal to quit immediately pledged to march from Tahrir (Liberation) Square to the presidential palace Friday, raising fears of a confrontation between elite troops and demonstrators.
In “Communique No. 2” the army said it “confirms the lifting of the state of emergency as soon as the current circumstances end,” a pledge that would remove a law imposed after Mubarak became president following Anwar Sadat’s assassination and that protesters say has long been used to stifle dissent.